Student volunteers reach out to classmates
“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” I Timothy 4:12
A service where students minister to one another taps the power of peer relationships at Fresno Pacific University.
Begun in 1999 as the student chaplains program with about a half-dozen volunteers, Students of the Shepherd (SOS) today involves about 26 students. The effort offers students someone to talk to who understands the pressures of college life today because they experience those pressures today. “This ministry is great because people who are going through college together are ministering to one another,” said Trevor Stearns, assistant campus pastor.
Students want to minister to one another. “Sometimes someone feels God has called them to minister at FPU, but they’re not sure what to do,” said Kim Johnson, an SOS volunteer. “When they hear about SOS, they say, ‘Oh, that’s exactly what I had in mind’.”
The goal is to address problems and build relationships. “It’s easy for people to slide through the cracks if nobody’s looking,” said Rod Reed, campus pastor and interim dean of students. “Volunteers are assigned to look with the eyes of Christ at their peers.”
This desire to keep the program on a human level spurred the name change. “Students felt like ‘student chaplains’ had a kind of high and mighty feel,” Johnson said. “What we want it to be is students who walk along side other students when they need help.”
Students searching for trust and authenticity find it easily with one another. “We’re students and we’re all basically at the same level,” Johnson said. Reed agreed: “SOS provides students small-group ministry by people they know and trust.”
SOS volunteers work to be friends, not experts. Though they receive training and support, volunteers are not mental-health counselors. Rather, SOS is the first link in a chain of assistance. “If it’s something I see I can’t help them with, I’ll ask them if I can go with them to Rod or Trevor,” Johnson said. Students who need more may go to Esther Klassen-Isaak in the Counseling Office, also part of student life, for clinical counseling. “Volunteers can consult with me if they’re not sure what’s needed,” Klassen-Isaak said.
Student life staff tries to coordinate common themes between SOS, student government and the College Hour chapel program, but SOS as its own place on the spectrum. “It is our primary structured vehicle for ministering to small groups,” Reed said.
SOS volunteers work with resident assistants, but RAs focus on group functions. “RAs also have rules enforcement responsibilities that sometimes get in the way of ministering to students,” Reed said.
Reed is pleased with the rate of growth and the foundation that has been laid. “It’s been really hard to know what to expect,” he said. “It probably hasn’t looked like what I expected, but I didn’t know what to expect.”
The goal is to have volunteers for all 25 living areas and the Commuter House as well for each club and athletic team. Volunteers should be part of the groups, not just attached as a “minister.” “The people involved in SOS ministries are involved in their areas,” Stearns said.
Volunteer training comes through twice-monthly meetings with student life staff. The group also uses the book Christian Caregiving and a binder of information. In addition, several volunteers attended a conference on Christian caregiving at Valley Children’s Hospital, north of Fresno.
Participating in SOS can help all students in college and volunteers throughout life. “My job as campus pastor is to equip people to minister,” Reed said.